Bloated parliament suffocates Treasury

I WAS one of the many people who viciously spoke against a brimming parliament during the Constitution Select Committee (Copac)’s constitution-making outreach process.

Tafara Shumba

I felt vindicated when I read in a local daily recently that Members of Parliament (MPs) were borrowing money in order to attend parliamentary sittings. What I highlighted then as the consequences of an overstaffed parliament are exactly what is unfolding.

Our parliament is just too big considering our population and the ailing economy. It’s shocking that countries which have better economies and bigger populations have leaner parliaments.

A close scrutiny of the sizes of parliaments cited by the Herald in proportion to the population represented can illustrate how bloated our parliament is.

Each MP in South Africa represents 130 000 people while the Zimbabwean MP stands for just 40 000. The ratios of an MP to the populace in Angola, Mozambique and Zambia are 1:81 818; 1:96 000 and 1:81 250 respectively.

India has a ratio of 1:1 518 987. China, the largest country in the world with a population of over 1,3 billion and a Gross Domestic Product of over US$1,7 trillion, has the largest parliamentary body in the world which stands at 2 987 MPs. The ratio, however, is 1:468 697.

These countries can afford to pay their legislators and give them resources needed for their operations. With our big parliament, MPs have gone for 15 weeks without fuel and months without allowances. Already, parliament owes MPs US$1,4 million in outstanding sitting allowances.

These arrears will pile up on the US$4 million outstanding allowances from the last parliament.
While our parliament has been expanding since 1980, on the contrary, the economy has been taking a nosedive. It would be economically prudent if the number of legislators was commensurate to economic growth.

There is nothing that the 350 MPs can do that 100 MPs cannot do, especially in urban areas where their work overlaps with that of the councillors.

The chief argument behind the rejection of devolution is the small size of this country. It defeats that argument when, on the other hand, we have an enlarged parliament more so when the MPs are salaried.

While it is too late to downsize the current parliament, such a measure should be considered in the next parliament. Honestly, there is no need for non-constituency MPs and many MPs in cities in an economy that is ailing.

Parliament should now think outside the box and devise cost-cutting measures. There are MPs who stay in Harare. This group of MPs does not need to be accommodated in hotels, neither should they be given accommodation allowances, at least until our economy is back on its feet.

The honourable MPs who are ministers and deputy ministers, should not be given vehicle loans. This group of MPs already received ministerial vehicles which they can also use for their constituency duties.

The vehicle loans that are set to be advanced to the MPs will come from the same Treasury that purchased ministerial vehicles for the same individuals.

It’s really a great strain on our Treasury to buy a fleet of cars when there are other pressing issues to be funded. After all, Zanu PF gave most of them some off-road vehicles which can be used for parliamentary duties. Honestly, the provision of vehicles to most of these MPs is not a matter of urgency.

We are told that the MPs are even borrowing in order to travel to Harare on parliamentary business. The greatest worry then is whether they will be able to service the vehicle loans when they cannot afford to fund a trip to Harare.

How are they going to repay the loans when their employer is not paying them?

The MPs should just live within the means of the country; after all, they are not alone in such challenges. Thousands of workers have gone for months without receiving their meagre salaries. The MPs need to sacrifice.

Some fought for the liberation of this country for no pay. Such a spirit is needed mainly today considering the economic challenges facing our country.

While we don’t condone the non-payment of MPs’ salaries, they should realise that parliament is not for money-making. It should be more of voluntary work that should be rewarded by their respective parties through ministerial and other important appointments.

It is also high time the monetary incentives for MPs were performance-based.

Some are receiving allowances yet they are not doing any work worth talking about.

Some of them are actually what Minister Simon Khaya Moyo calls “Missing Persons” (MPs) who just avail themselves in their constituencies for election campaign purposes.